Tuesday, April 26, 2016

A once- meat-eater's call to Vegetarianism


A Hindu’s Call To Vegetarianism


(Author, Well-being Expert, Meditation teacher, and Chaplain at New York University and Union Theological Seminary)

No matter how much I try and explain the benefits of a vegetarian diet, there are always people who, while nodding their heads in agreement with everything I say — will conclude our dialogue by saying, “but...I love my meat.”

I know how difficult it is to give up eating meat, as I ate it for over 20 years of my young adult life. It took me almost a whole year to wean myself off of it. It had become something like an addiction. I was vegetarian until the age of seven, while growing up in India, but soon after we moved to the U.S., it was burgers and fries and everything else I could get my hands on. For some reason, I can still remember very clearly the first time I ever bit into a burger, sitting at Wendy’s. I was too young to think about it philosophically, but something about the experience is lodged into my head.

The main reason I became a vegetarian, about 14 years ago, was for the reason of compassion. I had started exploring the spiritual direction I wanted to take for my life and the teachings of the Gita and the meditation practice I had adopted inspired me to incorporate a more compassionate diet, where others wouldn’t have to get brutalized simply for the satisfaction of my tongue.

I had never seen animals as sentient beings. Television advertisements do such a good job of making them look simply like a food product, like cereal or candy bars. Companies do such an amazing job of hiding how animals spend most of their lives in cages, unable to move or turn around, or living knee-deep in their own fecal matter.

Most of us would puke and might even get traumatized if we saw how animals actually get killed in a slaughterhouse. Here’s a mild video from PETA giving us a glimpse of reality that we ignore. Don’t worry, it’s milder than a lot of the video games out there today.

I learned from the Hindu scriptures, and our teachers of the past and present, of the karmic implications for one who causes, directly or indirectly, physical, financial, or emotional harm and suffering to others. This not only refers to actions directed towards other humans, but also to animals and the environment.

The law of karma records everything we do. “Karma“ literally means “activity,” so a karmic reaction would be a result of one’s activities. In this case, even if we don’t directly hurt a human or animal, but if we partake of something that caused suffering, we will have to undergo some pain and suffering as a reaction to that activity. That reaction may come in this life or a future life. It’s like making a credit card purchase and getting the bill 30 days later. The Manu Samhita and the Mahabharata, respectively, further expound on this point.

“He who permits the slaughter of an animal, he who cuts it up, he who kills it, he who buys or sells meat, he who cooks it, he who serves it up, and he who eats it, must all be considered as the slayers of the animal...”
(Manu Samhita 5.51-52)

“The sins generated by violence curtail the life of the perpetrator. Therefore, even those who are anxious for their own welfare should abstain from meat-eating.”
(Mahabharata, Anushasana Parva 115.33)

People always ask the question, “What about killing plants? Doesn’t that create bad karma?” Abstaining from killing is one of the foundational teachings of Hinduism. Yes, killing plants does involve some violence, but since plants lack a central nervous system and a brain to process pain, they don’t experience pain the same way humans and animals do, and thus the violence is minimized. Moreover, a lot of fruits and vegetables will fall off the tree when ripe. A cow or pig will never just drop a part of its body and grow another.

A simple question I’d like to pose: If you had to show your child where his or her food came from, where are you more likely to take them, a farm where fruits and vegetables are harvested or a slaughterhouse?

Animals live and care for each other as much as humans do. They will do whatever they can to defend their family members. They suffer emotionally when their offspring are taken away from them. How is it that we can be so callous towards these creatures of God? The goal of Hinduism is to love God. However, in order to love God, we need to love all of God’s creatures, which means the two-legged, the four-legged, the winged and the gilled.

In America alone, the largest meat consuming nation on the planet, over 10 billion animals are killed for food each year. This number doesn’t include fish. We really need to ask ourselves if all this violence is really necessary? There is no shortage of food, especially in this country. And, according to the USDA, there is no shortage of protein in vegetarian foods.

There is also enough evidence that indicates that a vegetarian lifestyle will not only be better for our health, but also for the planet. Here’s a great article from Mark Bittman called “Rethinking the Meat Guzzler” in which he describes in great detail the damage that’s done to our planet as a result of raising and killing so many animals. So, with all these reasons, ranging from freeing ourselves of karmic debt, living a healthier life and preserving the planet, is it enough for us to just say “but...I love my meat?”

Follow Gadadhara Pandit Dasa on Twitter: www.twitter.com/nycpandit


Food for Thought:-

Hinduism has advocated well being for all animals and planets and not destruction of them as seen in the Swasthi vachan

"swasthir maanushEbhyah :
Oordhwam jigaathu bheshajam/
Sham no asthu dwi-padhE:
Sham Chathush padhE
OM Shanthi Shanthi Shanthi:"


Let there be goodness to human beings.
Let the plants which are like medicine to us grow up well.
Let the bipeds and quadrupeds be well.
Let there be our goodwill to them.
Let there be peace at all three levels of
Bhu (physical),
Bhuvah (vital)
and swah(mental levels of) all these beings


Jay said...

This is the incorrect assumption, concocted by the author, on which his/her entire argument stands. Since there is no proof of this, the entire arguments presented in this blog post are false and have no basis in truth - "Yes, killing plants does involve some violence, but since plants lack a central nervous system and a brain to process pain, they don’t experience pain the same way humans and animals do, and thus the violence is minimized."

skm said...


why can't you enlighten us with your statements and proof so that we would learn from you sir. Simply stating eating plants would enable you to leave a less karmic foot print. We have to repay for our karmic deeds. If we have less karmic foot print, we can repay it quckily.

R.Ramanathan said...

Sorry for so late a comment but this statement piqued my attention
"The goal of Hinduism is to love God."
This is too general and dangerous a statement. What would be the goal of a person who for example follows Purva Mimamsa and Kapila's Sankya(In fact i prefer these 2 personally) that postulate no necessity of god? Even darshanas like Nyaya and Vaisheshika don't accept an Ishvara. In fact 4 of(Or should i say 4.5 since yoga postulates a passive ishvara)the 6 darshanas are nirishvaric. But these are not nastika(Astikatva as per the shastras,means the acceptance of shruti as pramana).

Anybody can give clarifications?

jayasree said...

So you mean to say that Hinduism says that one can deny God? Or one can harm others in the context of this article? Darshanas may be different but the ultimate reality is realisation of God either as one with It or identical with It. Of these, Bhakthi is the easiest way to realise God. Love of God and Love God is Bhakthi.

R.Ramanathan said...

No madam i did not mean harming of anything. The sankya darshana says that moksha is the release of the purusha(Atman) from the bonds of prakriti without the aid of god. In fact they postulate the theory of Satkaryavada,which can explain creation without the aid of a god. Of-course there are some caveats in it. Yoga postulates a sort of god, who just acts as the efficient cause(Nimitta Karanam)for creation of the world. He does not lord over prakriti or creation as per the yoga darshana. He is not considered in the same way as the puranas consider god.The poorva mimamsakas say that it is only useful to pursue Artha and dharma and kama(Jaiminini). But other versions of Mimamsa(Bhatta bhaskara, Shabara Swamin) postulate a sought of hazy Moksha.

Nyaya and Vaisheshika also deny a god but accept shruti pramanam. Though their definition of moksha is not acceptable. So this means that you can belong to the vaidika dharma and be considered an astika, if you believe in shruti pramana, even though you do not believe in any particular god or deity.

That is why Veera shaivas(Lingayats) in Karnataka are considered Avaidika and nastika even though they believe in Shiva, they do not believe in the Veda. Same with Veera Vaishnavas too.

So yes Hinduism(Vaidika dharma) allows you to the flexibility of not believing in god but believing only shruti pramanam. Will post more information after this comment

R.Ramanathan said...

"Darshanas may be different but the ultimate reality is realisation of God either as one with It or identical with It."

No madam the ultimate results postulated by each darshana is different. As i said 4 out of 6 darshanas do not postulate a god. What you say is applicable to vedanta alone. The Mimamsakas accept sound as eternal based on the Shruti Vaakya "Richo akshare parame Vyoman" (Taittriya Samhita Kaataka Bhaga Prashna 1). They do not accept any other entity as eternal. To them the various devatas specified in the Veda are manifested during the mantra kala, time of recitation of the mantra(Shabara's school). Again there is a difference here. Mandana mishra, Bhatta Bhaskara takes them as real beings. But they exist insofar as components of the ritual.

As of Sankya, Kapila's discussions of god is as follows. I quote as much as i remember from Ishvara Krishna's Vartikam of Kapila sutra.

"Why did god create the world?"



R.Ramanathan said...

"Is he a baddha(Bonded person within prakriti) or mukta? If he is a baddha but created
the world he is no good from any other baddha, except for his supernatural powers. If he is a mukta he has no use for creating the world. If he is beyond both he again does not need to create the world.

If it is stated that god created the world for jiva's to experience their karma, then he is not omniscient or omnipotent as he is acting on behalf of some other superior power compelling him to create. Thus again this kind of god has no use.

If he created the world as sport as most puranas claim, then he is a cruel being and not merciful as is claimed. Even if an earthly mother(Human or animal) can show so much mercy on her children and god is considered to be a parent(Jagan mata or pita, he leave's much to be desired, as the world he created is full of death, disease and poverty"

Ishvara krishna's vartika To be continued...

R.Ramanathan said...

"Poorvapaksha: What about various Vedic statements that say 'He the one created the worlds ....'

Siddhanta: These statements pertain to spiritually advanced beings who perform various aspects of creation. Many of these statements are Arthvada, intended to eulogize something(Rite or an act). Every round of creation can have a new soul coming as a supreme being(For example a Brahma(This is my illustration not in vartika)) to be the nimitta karana(Efficient cause like the potter who creates pots from the material cause, clay). So we cannot call such souls absolutely supreme as they rise up and get out of prakriti."

At the end of the Vartika

Poorvapaksha What happens when a purusha sees through prakriti?"
Siddhanta Just as a chaste woman disappears into the inner chambers when her clothes fall away and reveal her bossom, Prakriti melts away on seen by the purusha"

To be continued...

R.Ramanathan said...

So with these arguments you see that it is theoretically possible to attain moksha even without god. Even in Vedanta the Advaita school accepts god within Vyaavaharika sat(Relative truth). Not in Paramaartika sat(Absolute state of realization).

The only reason i state all this is because "The goal of Hinduism is to love God." seems to be too general and vague. Of-course it is his choice to follow what is natural to him. And we do have theistic schools of Vedanta like Vishishtadwaita, Dwaita, Shivadvaita(Appaya Dikshitas school, though not popular seems to be followed by some Vedic ritualist's of the telegu sampradaya). But wanted to give some perspective on that statement.

I also want clarify this. I do not state all this to support meat eating(Of course in soma Yajnas i have a small piece when i function as a chamasadhvaryu). I do not eat it as a part of my regular diet or recommend it. Never have and never will.

R.Ramanathan said...

The following are common to all Astika darshana's(That accept the shruti, not necessarily accepting a god)
1. The natural aim of all creation is to end misery and attain joy(Dukha nivritti and sukha prapti)
2. Man needs to escape the cycles of birth and death.
3. The shruti provides the way to attain permanent bliss(Moksha)

I also go to temples, particularly the older one's in far flung remote villages. After all they are navel of village life. I avoid the bigger popular one's like Sri Rangam, Chidambaram etc because they have become commercialized. I enjoy the serenity and peace in those village temples. I also have darshan of the deity. But because of my temperament i can't relate to him as a supreme merciful god(Whatever the deity is vishnu, shiva, murugan etc). Seeing the state of the world and of-course my personal problems, i just cannot accept that there is a god that to merciful. I also did not know much about the 6 darshanas except for a skeletal understanding. Around 2.5 years ago when i went to a village near Pandaripur in Maharashtra for a Shrauta rite, i chanced to meet a Ritwik of the Yajna who had studied Mimamsa and sankya of Kapila. He agreed to teach me on skype. Happily i found sankya agreeing to most of my observations based on the world and my personal life experiences. I am planning to learn the other 3 darshanas after completion of these 2.

jayasree said...

Dear Mr Ramanathan,

I think your explanations deserve a separate post ( which I remember you promised to send long ago) on Darshanas and I will post them as a blog if you send one. However I think this exposition is unrelated to the topic of the current blog on the need to shed meat eating.

And though the statement on love of God as the goal of Hinduism may look strange to you, it is the simple way of expression for common people to develop a connect with God. That is the first step and all the other explanations come later as one develops towards gyana. May be at your level of gyana you say all this but what is the essence of all these is a question. By that we must have a clarity of what Hinduism means or says ultimately. The best source for it is Bhagavad Gita as far as I know. Gitacharyan's advice is to trust Him completely which is not possible without love for Him.

Even a 1000 years ago, Darshana based gyana was argued by different schools to the extent that people were at the verge of losing the insight of Hinduism and that is why / when Bhakthi based connect with God gained momentum. My statement "the ultimate reality is realisation of God either as one with It or identical with It" is a simple way of expressing the ideals of Advaita and Vishishtadvaita thought - that better explain / guide what a Hindu must do in the current age of loss of wisdom and vitiated wisdom.

jayasree said...

In this context I wish to point out my blog on a research finding on what our brain conceives as spiritual thinking. It is compassion to others. Read it in this link:_ http://jayasreesaranathan.blogspot.in/2016/03/conflict-between-science-and-religion.html
It requires one to shun any harm to any other being.

R.Ramanathan said...

Yeah i promised writing it long ago. Just that, i was stuck up in a very busy professional schedule. I will write it in detail probably if needed spread over 2 o 3 parts. Will start first part today only. No the statement does not seem strange. But i felt that it did not convey the spectrum of Vedic thoughts that comprise the Darshanas.

Also on a lighter side i wanted make my presence felt, as i am reading your blog after a long hiatus :-)

jayasree said...

You are welcome to send your articles Mr Ramanathan. Doesn't matter how many parts it stretches into.

Jay said...

Clarifying my original comment since someone asked. This is the part which is incorrect and clearly exposes the prejudice and bias of vegetarians in order to cover their hypocrisy of equating eating meat with violence:

"Yes, killing plants does involve some violence, but since plants lack a central nervous system and a brain to process pain, they don’t experience pain the same way humans and animals do, and thus the violence is minimized."

Based on this asinine logic, if your legs are paralyzed, then taking a hand saw and sawing off your legs is not violence. This logic is simple incorrect and a middle school student will see the fallacy in this foolish argument.

Eating plants and animals gives you equal kaarmic debt, because both plants and animals are living beings and because whether violence was committed or not is not dependent upon the victim or on the ability to feel pain in the victim.

R.Ramanathan said...

I do not understand why you take inordinate pleasure in eating non veg. There where Brahmins in ancient times who avoid alcohol and non veg. Read this article about Bhoja Mishra Brahmanas https://manasataramgini.wordpress.com/

Please read the story of Vena in the Bhagavata. If killing of animals and plants were of equal karmic effect the using of Rice grains in aupasana, use of samith, use of leaves and certain barks also would constitute violence.

I don't know about you, but when one matures spiritually, one should tend to be less violent(I am not saying absolute non violence, as it is impossible). An act of cutting grains or boiling rice grains is violent. But it is less gross and aesthetically pleasing than chopping of one's limbs as you so quaintly put it. I bet that if you invite 1000 people to view a spectacle of boiling rice grains and chopping of limbs, i bet all the 1000(If they are normal people) would run away on mentioning the 2nd spectacle.

Yes i too believe that violence is a part of life and absolute non violence is useless and impossible in many situations. But not in my wildest dreams will I consider chopping of limbs(Except in situations when i am in a war and i am to be killed then i would not hesitate. I am not a self destructive sadist/masochist to practice non violence even then) equivalent to cutting or killing of plants that too on necessity.